I have to start by declaring that Senator Walid Iqbal is one of my favorite politicians. We seldom meet, but I feel deeply connected with him for multiple reasons. Besides being the grandson of Allama Iqbal, our national poet, he is also the son of a mother who is the sister of my dearest friend from Lahore, Yousaf Salahuddin. And she is an extremely talented and elegant lady in her own right who also made history for becoming a female judge of Lahore High Court.

In his DNA, Walid has inherited sincere respect for writers trying to express themselves by the use of creative nuances. As an avid reader, he often phones me to discuss the use of a particular metaphor or expression, especially in my Urdu columns. Participating in parliamentary debates and TV talk shows, he doesn’t feel shy of quoting them, while giving me the credit for using them.

In the given background, it was just not possible for me to sleep Monday night after watching a video on social media where Walid’s mother, Justice (retired) Nasira Iqbal narrated the story of a police raid at her residence. Visibly struggling to control her emotions she tried to tell the story with a brave face.

Her son is a devoted loyalist of Imran Khan and he must have been working overtime to mobilise supporters to lead a large crowd to Islamabad on May 25. On this day, his leader intends to assemble a huge crowd in Pakistan’s capital to build pressure on a government he calls “imported” to resign and announce a date for earliest possible elections. Walid is surely included amongst those loyalists expected to manage impressive numbers for the said event.

 

After many days of behaving like a confused and helpless entity, the eleven-party government led by Shehbaz Sharif finally felt forced to firmly decide Monday that “PTI hordes” would not be allowed to reach Islamabad by all means, fair or foul. The Punjab government, ironically led by a son of Prime Minister Sharif, instantly switched to hyper-action after this decision.

 

Since the days of British Raj, the Punjab Police had developed the frequently tried and tested SOPs to paralyze political activities. The local administration keeps updating lists of “potentially subversive elements.” Whenever the need be, their homes are raided during late hours of the night. Once captured, the prominent leaders and activists of the targeted party are then sent to jail in the name of “Maintenance of Public Order (MPO).” Even after 70-plus years of “independence” from the colonial government, the practice goes.

 

Monday night was the turn of PTI leaders and activists to face the wrath of the same SOPs. They surely violate privacy and are primarily designed to instill fear of a control-obsessed state and administration.

 

At the outset of the Senate sitting Tuesday, the PTI senators were certainly justified to vigorously condemn the series of relentless raids, conducted to nab PTI activists with the clear intent of preventing their march to Islamabad. The story told by Justice Nasira Iqbal was frequently referred to as exhibit-A to prove the propensity for overkill by a “frightened government.”

 

As a student activist of yesteryears I had frequently been subjected to such overkills. Almost three decades in active journalism also helped me to discover the futility of such tactics as well.

 

Most senators, sitting on the government benches, had also been experiencing the atrocious conduct of successive governments in Pakistan. But we have now become a deeply and frighteningly polarized society. Feeling completely overwhelmed by the emotional divide, most treasury benches failed to empathize with what had happened to Walid Iqbal.

 

Many of them had indeed endured far more intense humiliation during the government of Imran Khan. The former prime minister had turned into a politician after relishing many years of adoration as a celebrity cricketer. After switching to full time politics, he took advantage as a charismatic ‘outsider’ to this game to portray all established politicians of the past as “ruthless looters and plunderers.”

 

In the name of punishing the same lot, General Musharraf had taken over in October 1997 and established the National Accountability Bureau (NAB). This outfit was empowered with draconian powers, but in the end miserably failed to “cleanse our politics.” Most politicians, initially arrested for allegedly committing grave crimes of corruption, rather succeeded to save their skins and wealth by joining the federal and the provincial cabinets, established under the patronage of General Musharraf. That should have led to dismantling of the said outfit after the so-called “restoration of democracy” in 2008. Yet the NAB continued to exist due to the expedient obsessions of our political governments, always looking for tools to humiliate their opponents like the vicious warlords.

 

After many years of being dormant, the NAB literally resurrected itself with a bang after Imran Khan’s taking over the office of Prime Minister in August 2018. A large number of leaders from the opposition parties were picked by NAB to spend many months in investigation dungeons and subsequently in jail. Most of them were eventually released by the Superior Courts on bail. But their reputations had been completely demolished while they were in custody. Instead of proving the allegations of corruption against them in the courts, the Imran government sadistically used its total control over media to malign the reputation of arrested persons by spreading so many embarrassing and malicious stories. And the muck, as they say, sticks.

 

No wonder instead of feeling sympathetic to Walid, senator after senator from the government benches stood to mockingly recall the manner Imran Khan’s government had been treating its opponents. “What goes around comes around,” was the theme they kept projecting. I could take the mutual mudslinging no more; left the press gallery and didn’t feel motivated returning to Parliament to watch proceedings of the national assembly, also holding a sitting Monday afternoon.

 

“What’s next?” is the question, gripping many minds in Islamabad these days. If you go by appearances, with zealous overkill by the Punjab Police Imran Khan could fail to draw huge crowds to Islamabad from the cities of Punjab and Sindh. But Peshawar is too close to Islamabad and the PTI is ruling there. Imran Khan himself is staying put there for the last four days and he is adamantly determined to lead a huge crowd while starting from there.

 

Lest you forget, Muzaffarabad, the capital of Azad Kashmir is also being ruled by the PTI these days. People marching from there will prefer to avoid entering Murree and turn to Abbottabad to join the rally moving from Peshawar.

Ensuring calm in Islamabad is relatively easier for the local administration if it completely sealed Islamabad. But in this case the Attock Bridge, connecting Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to Punjab and Islamabad, would certainly turn into a battleground. That could produce visuals, promoting the feeling as if “fortress Islamabad” was desperately trying to protect itself from an “invading Lashkar” from the KPK.

 

Feeling jittery about the anticipated scenes, I could also not disregard the fact that since his removal from the Prime Minister’s Office, Imran Khan had obsessively pushed things to such do or die showdown. One can but only wishes that he had adopted a different strategy to check the government replacing him.